Holding Place, Healing Place

"Would you like me to tell you a story about a hot air balloon?"
"Yes."
Oak rubbed his wet eyes and wriggled closer into the fold of my arm, laying on my chest. Ronin rested across my side, nursing at the breast. I wanted sleep. I wanted space. I wanted to be quiet. But the moment required more from me. I took a long breath.
It had been an intensely trying afternoon. I could list the many compounded and likely reasons why Oak was having difficulty: an early morning wakeup, no nap, busy schedule, no decent meal... But the truth was that he was holding even more than those synergized struggles. I cannot pretend to know fully what he may have been feeling or experiencing that afternoon. I only know two things: that I, too, have been in spaces where I could not understand what was happening to me; and that I trust that, somehow, I - we all - have to learn to be there for one another when we see someone we love go someplace beyond.
It was the moment when he was screaming and thrashing as his dirty diaper overflowed and his brother was wailing in sleepy hunger, as I tried to keep his legs from kicking my baby and change the mess as calmly and carefully as I could, that I felt the ugly surge of repulsion: I. WANT. OUT. This is too much. I need a break RIGHT NOW. It is too big, too heavy, too close.
I looked at my child in distress. Yes. It is too big.
So, I realized resolutely, I was not going anywhere.
By some small miracle, I did not scream or run or hit or grab or cry. I did what I didn't want to: I asked his permission, then I drew him in. I held him close. I reminded him he was safe. I tried to listen. He could barely articulate what was happening to him. Through choking sobs, he repeated over and over:
"I'm just so sad, Mommy. I don't know why. I'm...Just...SAD."
I told him I heard him. I didn't try to fix it. I just listened. More tears came for all of us.
His exhaustion made him more awake, but as we piled in bed, I thought perhaps a story could settle him alongside his brother. When he took notice of the balloons stenciled along the border of the bedroom, I told a version of a story I had spoken to him many times before:
"Once upon a time, there were two little boys.Their names were Oakie and Ronin.
"One day, as they were playing outside, they looked up and saw colorful balloons high in the sky. So far away, the balloons looked very small.
"But as they watched, the balloons started to look bigger and bigger...because they were coming down, down, closer to the ground. Soon, they could see the baskets below the balloons with people riding in them. Soon, they could hear the noise of the fire burning to keep the balloons full of warm air. Soon, the baskets touched the ground - the balloons had landed!"
Soon, we would leave his brother to nap as we went downstairs for a snack. It required holding, waiting through tears, gently offering a bite, patiently waiting to hear the need, breathing through the discomfort and exhaustion, to get down the much-needed nutrition. It required staying close when I wanted to create distance with exasperation or anger as the process took more time than I felt I could give. It meant letting go of my ideas of what was acceptable or not. It meant checking in with myself to be fully present to the moment. It meant getting myself back on track when I missed the mark. It meant complete surrender to my child with open arms.
I cannot inhabit where my son lives; I can only visit there. I can only visit when I listen. I can only see clearly when I'm close, and curious, and kind. I may not always understand, but I can stand by. I can be a landing. I can enter alongside. I can honor that I'm somewhere I've never been.
"Oak and Ronin floated up, up, up into the clouds...and below them, their house, the street, all the cars and buildings and people grew smaller and smaller. They felt the warm sun on their faces. They felt the cool wind at their backs. They imagined they were almost close enough to touch the clouds."
If it can be this stretching to hold my young child with love and let myself be open, how can I expect to hold with love a world of others who do harm, to enter their pain and recognize the throbbing Need at the center of any act of violence? How can healing happen?
I am not entirely sure which moment turned the tide, when exactly Oak felt like he was coming home to himself. I only know he kissed me, and his brother, and I suddenly felt the soothed spirit speaking beyond words. I realized I had stopped wanting to push it away. I was exhausted - we all were. Our throats were hoarse, our hearts ached. But we had weathered the storm. Nothing had been silenced. Nothing had been buried. Nothing had been turned away. And here we were, somehow still together...in some ways, perhaps, more so.
"As the day wore on and the sun began to set, the sky turned a rainbow of colors. Ronin yawned and said, "I'm getting sleepy." Oak patted his back and said, "I think it's time to go home."
"So they gently dimmed the fire in the balloon and began to sink, down, down, down, closer and closer to their home again. Soon, they could see the streets and homes and people. Soon, they could clearly see their own house and green yard. Soon, they felt the basket touch the ground, and gently, they opened the door and stepped outside.
"They turned to wave goodbye to the balloons as they floated up again into the sky, farther and farther until, as night settled, they disappeared into the distance. Ronin and Oak, hand in hand, turned together and went inside to recount their adventures as they drifted off to sleep. They imagined they might take another trip someday soon."
How can healing happen? I can only guess how it might begin. I can only be the most attentive and loving guest to the world of my beloveds. I can only hope to honor the gift with gentleness. I can only let go, then hold close.